Netanyahu: The pathology
Into The Fray: The venomous ad hominem attacks on the PM by his political opponents have long exceeded the limits of rational criticism and reasoned dissent.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls early elec Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Leah Rabin said yesterday that she preferred to shake the hand of PLO chief
Yasser Arafat rather than that of Likud Party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu –The
Jerusalem Post, November 16, 1995
Binyamin Netanyahu is a corrupt individual, a
contentious liar who is ruining everything that is good about our society
(November 1998)... We all want this nightmare to end, that this monstrosity
called Netanyahu will get lost (March 1999)... – Leah Rabin, in letters
published by Haaretz, October 26, 2009
In the 37 months that Netanyahu held
office, Israeli citizens enjoyed one of the safest and quietest periods with
regards to terrorism in 20 years... Of the five Israeli leaders examined [Rabin,
Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon], Netanyahu’s policies with regards to the
prevention and deterrence of terrorism...were the most effective – Study
by The Institute of Policy and Strategy, The Lauder School of Government,
Diplomacy and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, 2002.
ongoing campaign of unrestrained, vicious Bibi-bashing underscores how
intellectually corrupt the political discourse has become over the past two
decades, and how detached the election process has become from the pressing
substantive issues facing the nation.
I am far from being
an enthusiastic Netanyahu fan, and there is little chance of me voting for him
later this month.
Indeed, I have considerable criticism of much of what
he has – and has not – done, which I have expressed vigorously in the media, in
both English and Hebrew, during both his first and second terms in
After his Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, in which he declared
willingness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, I published a
full-page article in this paper, castigating him for what I saw as unwarranted
Back in April 2003, when he was serving as finance
minister, again in the Jerusalem Post, I expressed concern that his economic
policy was overly imbued with “Friedmanist” orthodoxy which, given some of the
unique challenges Israel faces, may prove inappropriate.
whatever the focus of the disagreement, it was confined to substantive issues of
policy. Unlike much of the mainstream media, I scrupulously refrained from ad
hominem attacks on the man himself, on alleged defects in his character, or of
the conduct of his spouse.
Errors of judgment
To be sure, Netanyahu has
had his share of blunders, both as prime minister and as head of the Likud.
Several key decisions he has taken appear to be driven by blatantly flawed
In 2009, he ran an atrociously poor election campaign. Despite
having a star-studded line-up, with newly acquired (Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon) – and
reacquired (Bennie Begin and Dan Meridor) high-profile names, he almost managed
to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory. The glaring lack of clarity
and focus, of direction and resolve in the Likud’s message, left – almost
inconceivably – Kadima, a party riddled with unprecedented charges of corruption
and a disastrously failed record of performance, with the largest number of
seats in the Knesset. It was only the good graces of fortune – and the gross
incompetence of his rivals – that prevented Tzipi Livni being given the task of
forming the government.
His previously mentioned Bar-Ilan speech
completely – and adversely – transformed the structure of the discourse on the
Palestinian issue, from a debate over whether there should, or should not, be a
Palestinian state, to one over what the features that state should
By abandoning his previous opposition to Palestinian statehood,
Netanyahu has managed to maneuver himself – and Israel – in to an unenviable
corner, inevitably perceived as being deliberately disingenuous or impossibly
Cogent cause for concern
His plan to merge the Likud with
Yisrael Beytenu into a unified list for the coming election appears to be a
major fiasco, which according to most polls has led to hemorrhaging of up to 10
seats relative to the number the two separate factions hold jointly in the
current Knesset. This was hardly to be unexpected. Almost invariably, in
politics, the whole is smaller than the sum of the parts, because, barring
exceptional circumstances, there are always losses at the “margins,” making a
post-election, rather a pre-election partnership seem a more judicious course to
This is hardly rocket science. For absent the union, those voters
who might be vehemently averse to one faction/leader can always vote for the
other. But after the union, if the aversion toward one of them is strong enough,
some might well decide – indeed, appear to have decided – to abstain, or even
vote for their second-preference party.
The validity of this
“commonsense” analysis appears to be emerging in the polls, which hardly augurs
spectacular success for the merged list.
These – and other – episodes
indicate that a cogent case for concern can be made regarding the soundness of
Netanyahu’s decision-making faculties and the steadfastness of his
However, whatever his faults there is little to justify the
wholesale campaign of his denigration, demonization and delegitimization, either
as a person or a politician, that has been waged against him ever since he first
took over the leadership of the Likud in the early 1990s.
After all, Netanyahu has served his country with distinction and
dedication for decades.
Prior to entering the political arena he served
as a soldier and a diplomat; as an officer in an elite commando unit,
participating in numerous daring combat operations; and later as a highly
articulate and effective ambassador at the UN.
His impressive performance
at the UN paved the way for him into politics in 1988. In 1992 he was elected to
lead the Likud and head the opposition to Yitzhak Rabin’s government and the
Oslo process it had instigated. His efforts were largely successful, and by the
fateful night of November 4, 1995, on which Rabin was assassinated, Netanyahu
was pulling steadily ahead of him in the opinion polls.
In his detailed
study of the events leading up to this election, Prof. Gerald Steinberg reminds
us of frequently forgotten – or is that often obscured – facts: “In January
1995... polls showed Rabin trailing Netanyahu by a narrow
margin. Continued terrorism... reinforced this trend. However, in the
aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin...Netanyahu’s standing
plunged. In February , when Peres decided to hold early elections, the
prime minister [Peres] maintained a substantial lead over
Mean-spirited mendacious malice
It was perhaps Netanyahu’s
unexpected – and for some, inexplicable, indeed unacceptable – victory in the
1996 election that unleashed the torrent of enduring enmity toward him from much
of the Rabinesque civil society elite.
Despite his (documented) public
disapproval of incendiary accusations against Rabin and his government,
Netanyahu was condemned for igniting the hostile ambience that allegedly
culminated in the assassination. This precipitated the mood of mean-spirited and
largely mendacious malice against him reflected in the introductory excerpts
from Rabin’s widow.
Open-season was declared on Netanyahu. His success,
against all odds, had for all intents and purposes made him fair game to blame
for every conceivable malaise, real or imagined, afflicting Israel, the Middle
East and humanity as a whole.
Consequently, Netanyahu has been given
little credit for the numerous impressive feats he, and the governments he
headed, have achieved.
On entering office he inherited
daunting problems, both economic and security.
The Oslo process adopted
by his predecessors had precipitated hitherto unprecedented levels of terror
attacks against Israel. Netanyahu’s government managed to suppress these attacks
to the lowest level for almost two decades.
If the figures are “lagged”
to account for the fact that an incumbent’s policy takes time to have an effect,
and at the start of his term, events are affected by that of his predecessor,
Netanyahu’s performance figures improve, while those of others
Indeed, it was under his successors, Barak and Sharon, that
terror once again soared, resulting in Operation Defensive Shield, and
construction of the much-maligned security barrier.
On the economic front, the much-vaunted growth commonly – but
fallaciously – ascribed to the Oslowian peace process had ground almost to halt,
in no small measure due to the deteriorating security situation.
much of the post-Oslo growth was fueled largely by a gigantic budget deficit
that almost brought Israel to the brink of financial catastrophe, as befell
several Asian countries at the time. It was only the fiscal prudence of the
Netanyahu government which steered the nation clear of the looming economic
disaster that the cavalier fiscal promiscuity of Avraham Shohat, finance
minister during the Rabin/Peres term, almost brought upon it.
many, myself included, were critical of the perceived “social insensitivity” of
the economic policies Netanyahu undertook later as finance minister under Ariel
Sharon, it can hardly be disputed that they were in large measure responsible
for the current resilience of the Israeli economy and for its ability to weather
the global crisis better than most other industrial countries.
Netanyahu can hardly be portrayed as a champion of egalitarian “social justice,”
it was on his watch that unemployment, perhaps the most pernicious of social
ills, has been kept at arguably the lowest levels in the developed world.
Likewise the impressive pace his government’s construction of the security fence
on the Sinai border has important, but seldom recognized “social justice”
aspects as well.
As Nehemia Shtrasler recently pointed out in Haaretz:
“Anyone opposing the border fence should realize that without it we would now be
witnessing an influx of thousands of migrants a month, at a growing pace, with
increasing damage to the weaker sectors of Israeli society.”
He drove the
point home with a somewhat derogatory jeer: “Anyone claiming that all these
migrants should be given a chance to work should at the same time demand that
they be relocated to Ramat Aviv and other neighborhoods in well-to-do northern
More malevolent myths
On the international stage Netanyahu has
few if any equals. He has put Israel’s case in international forums with
unmatched brilliance. I was in Washington in May 2011, when he confronted
President Barack Obama on the issue of the 1967 borders and when he made his
address to Congress. I can testify to huge waves of support and admiration he
generated there, only to be vilified here by the mainstream Israeli media for
undermining US-Israeli relations.
Recently he has been accused of being
personally responsible for the controversial – and troubling – appointments by
Obama of officials known to be antagonistic toward Israel.
In a recent
article in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker claimed this was “Obama’s revenge” for
“Netanyahu’s blatant support for Republican candidate Romney.”
wildly far-fetched to believe the US president would appoint his top officials
merely to spite Israel’s prime minister, rather than because of the
compatibility of their worldviews to his, it is just as untrue. Indeed, I would
challenge anyone to produce documented evidence of such” blatant support for
Romney, for there is considerable evidence to the contrary.
Thus, at the
recent Democratic Convention – where the rank-and-file proved itself to be
distinctly chilly toward Israel – prominent speakers such as Robert Wexler and
even John Kerry (Obama’s nominee for secretary of state) invoked Netanyahu for
endorsing Obama’s pro-Israel credentials.
In a September 2012 Foreign
Policy article, associate editor Uri Friedman wrote: “Netanyahu, for his part,
has avoided jumping into the fray.” He noted that when pressed by both CBS’s Bob
Schieffer and Fox’s Chris Wallace on his preference for the outcome of the US
elections Netanyahu, rebuffed the question, retorting they were far too wise and
experienced as journalists “to think that I’m going to get into your field of
So much for blatant support for Romney...
I wrote this article...
This column is not intended as an electoral
endorsement of Netanyahu. As I stated previously I am unlikely to vote for him –
for reasons both substantive and “strategic.” Rather it is a protest and an
appeal for more veracity and less vitriol in our public discourse.
venomous ad hominem attacks on Netanyahu by his political opponents have long
exceeded the limits of rational criticism or reasoned dissent, and have become a
Netanyahu is a man of tremendous talent and serious
shortcomings. He should be judged on a judicious assessment of the balance
between the two – not on some distorted, demonized image created by his
As the veteran left-wing media personality, Yaron
London – someone even less likely than I to vote Likud – recently wrote,
castigating the discriminatory double-standards and derogatory diatribe that
Netanyahu is continuously subjected to: “My political views are vastly different
from Netanyahu’s, but self-righteousness and gossip anger me more than political
views that are opposed to mine.”
(www.martinsherman. net) is the founder and executive director of the
Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.